Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Melting Of Antonia: Sa Pobla's bell

For seven years the main bell of the Church of Sant Antoni Abat in Sa Pobla has not chimed. When a crack appeared, it was decided that it would be for the best if the bell was made mute, and so silence has reigned from the largest of the six bells ever since. This isn't any old bell, because of its name and association. The big old bell in Sa Pobla is called Antonia. The name is derived from the name of the parish church, and the church's name has existed since the mid-fourteenth century. When you have a church named after an ancient Egyptian hermit - Sant Antoni - who carries with him any amount of pre-Conquest Catalan tradition, then naturally enough you call the bell after him, but feminise the name. Personalising bells is not, of course, unknown elsewhere. Great Bell it may officially be, but we all know about Big Ben.

Finding a solution to the predicament of cracked Antonia has taken seven years, but only now can the preferred solution be implemented because of a lack of money up until now. And how much does this solution cost? 24,000 euros. This is to be the cost to transport Antonia to Valencia, melt her down and re-do her. It is a sort of final resort solution, because it in essence involves destroying the original. Re-creating her from her molten remains isn't quite the same as repairing her, but a repair job, one that would involve a journey to Germany, would be more costly and might not totally eliminate the possibility of the crack reappearing. It has to be a melting down job, therefore. 

Why, though, has it taken so long? One can understand the need to debate the alternative forms of rectifying the problem of the crack, but has this required seven years to debate? It hasn't only been the argument over the method that has caused the delay, there has also been the issue of paying for the chosen method. 24,000 euros do not, in the scheme of things, sound like a lot of money. If Antonia is so important and emblematic, and the bell is because of the Antoni association, then surely the money would have been found well before now. It isn't as if the Catholic Church is in a state of penury, but wealth or no wealth, it doesn't appear possible to, for example, apply to the Pope for a grant.

Grand churches - and they normally always are grand churches - demand a great deal of cash for their maintenance. I couldn't begin to tell you the state of the accounts for the Sant Antoni church (church accounts tend not to be public knowledge anyway), but it will, as with other churches, benefit in a way that other property owners do not. There is no property tax levied on churches.

Churches such as Sant Antoni are looked after by their own organisations. In Sa Pobla, this means the Obreria de Sant Antoni, which has been around since the end of the seventeenth century. It not only looks after the upkeep of the parish church, it is also the keeper of the tradition of Sant Antoni; all those demons and what have you during the January fiesta have to go by the Obreria's book. So, it is up to the Obreria to come up with the readies for something like a crack in Antonia, unless, that is, the town hall is willing to step in. And Sa Pobla town hall is distinctly short of readies of its own.

The Obreria comprises a board of "obrers", the "obrer major" being the rector and others coming from the oldest and most traditional of Sa Pobla families; there are eleven "obrers" in all. The Obreria is organising a benefit lunch this coming Sunday in order to raise the outstanding funds needed. It has to be confident that the lunch will mean that 17,000 euros are forthcoming, as Antonia will have been taken down before then in preparation for her journey to meet her melter.

This final fundraising push comes five years after it looked as though repair was going to be effected. It wasn't. Two years ago, the funding was still way short. A mere 5,000 euros had been raised, most of it in the form of a donation by the Sa Pobla guild association. Two thousand euros have been found since then. Things have been painfully slow.

Antonia will not, however, be shipped off immediately. She is to lie in state for a few weeks. Residents of Sa Pobla will be able to pay their last respects before she has her date with the furnace. The rector has said that this only seems right; not everyone is happy with the meltdown. There's no pleasing some people. For whom the bell tolls. The toll for repair could have been considerably greater.

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